LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Good afternoon from Churchill Downs and Happy Derby Day! We have a beautiful day here in Kentucky and an overflow crowd is expected to enjoy the weather and the ponies for Kentucky Derby 140. Temperatures are approaching the low 70s and it couldn’t be a better day for the 19 contenders to run for the roses. Post time for the Derby is 6:32 p.m.
Through the first five races the main track was listed as fast and the turf course firm and it is expected to remain that way for the remainder of the afternoon. There also have been a large number of mint juleps that have been served.
We had a runaway victory in yesterday’s Kentucky Oaks, as Untapable patiently stayed off the pace and left her rivals behind after reaching the quarter pole for jockey Rosie Napravnik and trainer Steve Asmussen. A crowd of 113,071 were on hand on Friday to see the talented filly hand both Napravnik and Asmussen their second career Oaks victories. The crowd was the third largest in Oaks history. Untapable earned a healthy 107 Beyer Speed figure in the win.
Asmussen reported this morning that she came out of the race in fine shape and will get a few days off to recover from her impressive victory. "We'll just let her rest up from her efforts yesterday," said Asmussen.
The Oaks link above also includes the Oaks-Derby $2 Double will-pays. Yours truly is live on two $3 tickets to my top two picks in today's paper, Intense Holiday ($87.60) and Danza ($66.90). I also played a $0.50 Oaks/Woodford/Derby Pick-3 singling Wise Dan in the Woodford to 4, 8, 14, 16, 18 and 20 in the Derby. Please feel free to root any of those six horses home! You can also check out my Kentucky Derby spreadsheet for all of the numbers, speed figures and pedigree information.
Yesterday at Buffalo Raceway, I was on live from Louisville on the AM 1270 Rich Gaenzler Show, check the podcast here if you'd like to hear the interview and my thoughts on Derby 140. You can also wager today at the Raceway in Hamburg and receive on-track odds.
The most successful jockeys in the race are Gary Stevens (19-3-2-1, Candy Boy) and Calvin Borel (11-3-0-1, Ride on Curlin), the only two with more than one victory riding this afternoon.
The Buffalo Bills posted an interesting article on late owner Ralph Wilson's connection to horse racing that can be found here. Wilson bred Arazi, who finished eighth in the 1992 Derby and Jim French, the 1971 Santa Anita winner who finished second in that year's Derby.
We'll carry you along the five graded stakes races leading up to the Derby starting with Race 6, so stick around, check back and I'll keep you updated on what's going on at Churchill Downs.
1:00 p.m.: The first stakes race on the card is the Grade 2 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile for older Fillies and Mares going a mile on the turf course. I'm going to play a trifecta wheel using 9-Centre Court (9-5) on top of 1-Tapicat, 2-Coffee Clique, 3-Miz Ida and 8-Effie Trinket. The cost of that bet is $6 for fifty cents. I'll back wheel an exacta to protect against her getting nipped at the wire for a $1 with those four on top of the 9 (cost $4). Centre Court is coming in third off the layoff, a key handicapping angle.
1:36 p.m.: Well, I had it half right. 2-Coffee Clique ($13.80) held off long shot 4-Dame Marie ($31.60 to place) to win the Distaff Turf Mile. Centre Court gave up too much ground early and didn't have enough grass left when she made her run finishing a disappointing fifth.
One of the bonuses of having a press pass is being able to go into the winner's circle, where I just bumped into Miss Kentucky for a photo opportunity.
1:38 p.m.: Race 7 is the Grade 1 Humana Distaff Stakes a 7-furlong sprint for the ladies. I was going to go with 2-Heart Stealer (5-1) across the board, but unfortunately she scratched this morning. I figure 3-Judy the Beauty will take a lot of dough at the windows and although 8-Midnight Lucky may be the class of this field, she is coming off a lengthy layoff, so I'll wait one out on her. That leaves me with the Smith/Hollendorfer combo and 5-Scherzinger (say that five times fast) who is 7-2 on the morning line. We'll throw $2 bucks across the board on her for fun.
2:22 p.m.: 8-Midnight Lucky ($5.20) kept up Rosie Napravnik's winning ways over the weekend with a solid win over the mid-priced 1-Street Girl ($13.80 to place) completing a nice $108 exacta for two bucks. My choice 5-Scherzinger ($3.80 for show) hit the board and completed the trifecta that paid $117 for fifty cents.
Next up is the Grade 2 American Turf Stakes at 8 1/2-furlongs over the turf course restricted to 3-year-olds. If you're looking for a bomber today, you may find it in this race. If the pace melts down, the closer 1-Cleburne (30-1) is one to consider. I'll start a Pick-3 here into the Wise Dan race, to hunt for some value. We'll start it off with him, 2-Chief Barker (5-1), 5-Global View (9-2), 8-Storming Inti (my top pick) and 10-Picozza (5-1). This seems like a wide open race so we'll go five deep in the American Turf.
2:25 p.m.: One of the newest features at Churchill Downs is the new Big Board, the world's largest 4K video board that sits off the backside of the track and can be seen by folks in the infield, as well as those in the grandstands. The mammoth displace screen measures 171-feet wide by 90-feet tall sits 80 feet above the ground with an active display area of 15,224 square feet. That's one big board all right. Here's a view of the board from the backside that I took on Thursday morning during training hours.
Some fun facts about the board include that it weighs 1.24 million pounds, the equivalent of 9,850 jockeys at a maximum weight of 126 pounds. The active screen display is larger than three basketball courts of 2,200 46-inch flat panel TVs. It's brightness is approximately 30 times brighter than a standard HDTV and finally, the wind speed it is designed to withstand is 90 miles an hour (enough to withstand a Category 1 hurricane!
2:50 p.m.: Latest Kentucky Derby odds have California Chrome still as the favorite at 2-1. Second choice is 20-Wicked Strong at 7-1 and third choice is 4-Danza at 9-1. My top pick 16-Intense Holiday is currently at 13-1.
3:10 p.m.: What a finish in the American Turf! Hall of Famer Gary Stevens' horse 5-Global View ($14) at 6-1 put in a late kick to overtake my top choice 8-Storming Inti ($5.40 to place) by a neck. We're live to three horses in the final leg of a Pick-3 (1,2,and 10) and we've got another one started off into those three horses into Wise Dan and Boisterous in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic.
The next race is one that I've struggled with over the years, and of course, this is my best bet of the day. I'm going to unload on 2-Clearly Now (9-2), who performed a monster workout on Apr. 19, at Keeneland where he went 58 and 2 for 5-furlongs. With top jock, Javier Castellano aboard, he's today's top Post Time selection. In the Pick-3, we went with 2-Clearly Now, 1-Capo Bastone (10-1) and 10-Delaunay (9-2) into Wise Dan.
3:15 p.m.: I was in the paddock area before the Humana Distaff and there are some interesting looking characters having a good time watching the horses' parade to the track. When is the last time you saw a walking Mint Julep or the world's biggest Tony Danza fans including the Flying Nun? The best hat so far was this fellow who obviously took a wrong turn somewhere around Cleveland. There is definitely a buzz building outside the paddock and the crowd continues to build for the lead-up to the most exciting two minutes in sports.
I'm heading down to the trackside winner's circle to watch this sprint race, the Churchill Downs Stakes which should be a good one and will be key to whether I have a good betting day today.
4:05 p.m.: The sprint race continues to be my nemesis on big race days. Be prepared for the ALL button in Baltimore. 9-Central Banker ($23.60) caught 11-Shakin it Up to complete a nice $125 exacta for a $2 wager. Oh well, we'll live to see another day and we have our Oaks/Woodford/Derby bet alive with 1-Wise Dan singled in the next.
Two-time Horse of the Year, 1-Wise Dan (4-5), undefeated in three races at Churchill should continue his winning ways in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, a race he won last year. The only horse that scares me in this group is 7-Boisterous (8-1), with top turf jockey Castellano in the irons for Pletcher. Last year's Queen's Plate runner 5-Kaigun (8-1) will also compete in this race for trainer Mark Casse.
4:25 p.m.: It's always fun to understand how some of the horses obtained their names, here is a few of the better ones courtesy of the Louisville C-J:
Dance With Fate: Sire is Two Step Salsa and his mare is Flirting With Fate.
Wicked Strong: We noted in this morning's News article it was named for the Marathon bombing victims, went with Wicked Strong since Boston Strong was already taken.
Danza: Named after "Who's the Boss?" star Tony Danza. Danza's sire is Street Boss.
Wildcat Red: The name happens to be a nice, neutral combination of the sports teams of Kentucky's two biggest universities, the Kentucky Wildcats and the Louisville Cardinals (Red).
General a Rod: Named after his former owner, Armando Rodriguez of Venezuela, not the Yankees star. Rodriguez sold the horse Monday to Starlight Racing and Skychai Racing.
Medal Count: Owner B. Wayne Hughes, a USC graduate and big supporter of Olympic athletes, so he named the horse as a tribute to all of the medals won by USC Olympians.
Uncle Sigh: Named for Uncle Si Robertson, left, on A&E's popular "Duck Dynasty" show. The owner used a different spelling of the name to avoid the procedures required with the Jockey Club when using someone's name.
4:56 p.m.: Wow! What a terrific stretch duel between the 1-2 favorite 1-Wise Dan ($3)and 10-Seek Again with the Horse of the Year edging out his rival by a head for the win in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic. 7-Boisterous was third and rounded out the trifecta. Wise Dan endured some bumping early in the race with Skyring. 5-Kaigun, the Ontario-bred Casse horse finished fourth. The $1 trifecta paid $38.70 and the $2 exacta paid $13.80. The Horse of the Year looks like he's beatable and sooner or later they're going to catch him. His last two races were closer than normal, so it may be time to bet against in his next effort.
On a positive note we're live in the Oaks/Woodford/Derby Pick-3, with the rest of the world. We are live to 4-Danza, 8-General a Rod, 14-Medal Count, 16-Intense Holiday, 18-Candy Boy and 20-Wicked Strong. The big one is up next.
5:10 p.m.: For the Derby, we'll stick with our selections from this morning's paper (16-4-14), but we'll also bet an exacta box with 8, 18, 19 and 20 to try and make a few bucks. In honor of Bob Summers, we'll play an exacta box using all of the Hall of Fame jockeys' colts (16-Velazquez; 18-Stevens and 19-Borel).
I'm going to head to the backside and walk over on the track with the horses, one of the memorable experiences as a member of the press corps to see 165,000 plus strong cheering the Derby horses as they make their way to the paddock area for saddling. I'll be back after the Derby to post a few final thoughts on the Run for the Roses before signing off and getting work on tomorrow's column.
I hope you enjoyed following along today and may all your wagers be winning ones. Good Luck!
7:00 p.m.: So it's California Chrome ($7) who wins the Derby! We're off the Baltimore in two weeks for the second leg of the Triple Crown, we''ll be back here tomorrow for a post-Derby rehash and check tomorrow's print edition for my post-race commentary.
-- Gene Kershner (@EquiSpace)